A Year in Review – 2016

Before I dive into thinking about books I would like to read in 2017, I thought I would provide some thoughts and highlights from 2016.  Overall, not a bad year for reading, although I made up for lost time in the last quarter of the year!  I usually have a goal of 50 books and I completed 47 books this year. I had a mix of some non-fiction lifestyle and health-related books, poetry and fiction. I’m a little embarrassed to say that that I didn’t read many classics – just The Secret Garden.  For fiction books, I read five of the six books in the Wilderness series by Sara Donati. I also enjoyed reading a number of books about authors, including Fallen Beauty, Call Me Zelda, Hemingway’s Girl and The House of Hawthorne.  I also enjoyed reading more about Hemingway and his first wife in The Paris Wife.

Favorites for 2016 included:

Stayed tuned for some thoughts on goals for 2017.  Happy reading!

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David Copperfield

I’m happy to say that I finally finished David Copperfield. It took me a while between a busy couple of months at work and also trying to multitask and read a couple of a books at the same time. I really enjoyed this book — I think my favorite Dickens book is still Great Expectations, but once I immersed myself in David Copperfield, I couldn’t put it down. The book is written from the perspective of David and follows him through his journeys in life, including various trials, challenges and successes.  There is a great cast of characters with interesting backgrounds, some you fall in love with and some you love to hate.

I’ve read different reviews and perspectives on the book, where some suggest that this book includes many autobiographical references and parallels to his life, with the “DC” of David Copperfield being Dickens’ initials. Dickens has referred to David Copperfield as a “favorite child” of his written works. Others make the argument that while it was written in the first person and there are some parallels to experiences and individuals in his life, the book portrays a blend of fiction and truth.  If you’ve read the book, what do you think?

The Bookman’s Tale

Welcome, fall reading!  It’s been a while.  And what better way to usher in the fall season than with a good book about a bibliophile and antiquarian bookseller, William Shakespeare, forgeries, and Victorian art?  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  While it took a little while to get used to moving between three different periods in time, I became immersed in reading about book restoration, rare books, and all of the details and descriptions about books.

I also enjoyed reading another perspective about William Shakespeare, which brought up the age old question of whether Shakespeare was really Shakespeare… I found the highlights of that time period and different book collectors, booksellers, authors and artists also very interesting.  It’s been a while since I’ve read about that time period in history and it has piqued my interest.  I’ve now pulled another book off of my shelve which I have started reading – The Age of Shakespeare.  I also want to read Will in the World:  How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare.

What are your thoughts on Shakespeare?   

Pillars of the Earth

Apologies for the mini-hiatus here.  I’ve been focused on my reading over the last month.  One of the many books on my “plan to read” list is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I have heard good feedback on the book, but I just wasn’t ready to read it… (perhaps the page length was also a factor?)  🙂  All I knew about the book was that it was about cathedral building and set in England.  Usually, I will read some reviews and learn more about the book, but in this case, I decided to pick up the book and dive in.  Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.  I don’t want to spoil the book for others, so I’m not going to go into many details about the plot or characters.  The story takes place in 12th century England after King Henry’s death and captures the struggles in politics, power, church and state and the ambition, trials and dreams of a town and the building of a cathedral.  Well-written characters – those you love and want to succeed, and others that you love to hate.  I now have my eye on World Without End, which is listed as the sequel to Pillars of the Earth.  Perhaps before the end of the year…

The Good Thief

I have had The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti sitting on my shelf for over a year.  I finally pulled it from the shelf and read it last month. My first thought – why didn’t I read this sooner??  I loved it.  It was described as “Dickensian” in some of the reviews I read and after reading it, I would have to agree. The book is full of an interesting cast of characters and I liked the amount of detail and description that the author used throughout the book.  The story focuses on a young, orphaned boy named Ren who is missing his left hand.   The reader follows him on his adventures with Benjamin Nab, who says that he is Ren’s long-lost brother and takes him from the orphanage.  At this point, Ren is introduced to a very different world and there are a number of experiences that Ren faces which are a bit dark and heavy at times, including the black market, grave-digging and dealing with an interesting doctor.  However, there are also some really great moments in the story that show the test of friendship and being true to yourself. Throughout the book, Ren is looking to learn more about his past, and through the different adventures, he learns about his past and also his future. I enjoyed this book and it was a nice change of pace from what I had been reading. .

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution

King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Henri Charles, Thomas Jefferson, Maximilien Robespierre, Marquis de Lafayette, Camille Desmoulins, and of course, Marie Grosholtz, later known as Madame Tussaud.  It is December, 1788 and there is increased tension in Paris with the monarchy and King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; the beginning of what becomes the French Revolution and ends with the Reign of Terror.

The book is written from the perspective of Marie Grosholtz (Madame Tussaud) and all that she sees and faces throughout the revolution, including the politics and changes within France.  It is a political landmine as she has to balance building and maintaining her family’s business as a wax sculptor and running the Salon de Cire.  At the same time, she is being asked to tutor the King’s sister, the Princess Elizabeth, in the art of the wax sculpting.  While her position as tutor is at first an honor, with the increased tension and ultimate fall of the monarchy, she has to also demonstrate her commitment to being a patriot and supporting the revolution.  Throughout the book, Marie is constantly tested in ways she can show her support, including creating wax models of fallen individuals from the different actions that were taken.

Full of details and key points in the history of the French Revolution, this book provides a perspective on what it was like for the Royal family and also as a citizen of France and having to keep on your toes with who was currently “leading” the Revolution, who you needed as allies, being careful of your previous associations (for fear of being viewed as a Royalist), and always watching your back. It is a time period in history that resulted in many deaths (along with the introduction of the guillotine), and an upheaval of a city.  The author also highlights other key people and moments in history and science, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, the launching of a hydrogen balloon, and the inception of Charles’ Law (the law of volumes).  I really enjoyed this book and learning more about the French Revolution, along with learning about how Madame Tussaud built her business.

Lionheart

I read Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman last month.  It was a good book to read as I had recently finished The Captive Queen by Alison Weir, which was about Richard the Lionheart’s parents, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Richard was one of four surviving sons, often referred to as “The Devil’s Brood”,  and he took the throne after his father’s death.  This book follows Richard as he takes the throne, deals with his family, allies and foes, and battles the Third Crusade.

A number of characters, cities and countries are introduced throughout the book as it follows Richard’s life and his battles, so I definitely found it helpful to keep focused and not read this while tackling another book at the same time.  Lionheart is full of details, including some history about Richard’s relationship and respect for his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, his strained relationship with Phillip of France and also with some of his own family members, his many battles, and his marriage to Berengaria.  It was interesting to read about the different battle strategies and the ever-changing political alliances, where it could be difficult to know who you can and should trust.

One surprise at the end of the book was that I did not realize there would be a sequel, A King’s Ransom. I will now have to add this book to my reading list.  I also enjoyed reading the Author’s Note at the back of the book – it was interesting to read about what sparked the author’s interest in writing a stand-alone book on Richard the Lionheart after the research she completed for some of her other books. It seems as it she started to see another side of him and this is what she brings to light in Lionheart.

Shadow of Night

I have waited patiently for the second book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night.  This book did not disappoint!  I’ve found that with some trilogies the middle book often becomes the “filler” book, with the first book setting the stage and introducing the characters and the last book providing the conclusion and closure to all of the events.  Shadow of Night was packed full of interesting characters and a plot that really engages the reader.  I won’t spoil the book as it is hard to describe without going into more detail, but it is set in Elizabethan London and includes time travel, magic, alchemy, witches, vampires, daemons, Queen Elizabeth and other key historical figures during that time period, including Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and yes, even Shakespeare.  The author is a history professor and does a nice job of writing about a fascinating period of time in history and pulling in an engaging story and characters.  When I picked up her first book, A Discovery of Witches, I had my doubts and thought it was “just another book about vampires and witches” and once I started reading the book, I couldn’t put it down. Shadow of Night has sparked my interest in researching more about this time period and the different historical figures.  I highly recommend this book (and series) if you are interested in this time period in history or just looking for a fun, new book.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

I picked up The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb after the cover caught my attention while browsing through a book store.  After reading a few reviews, it piqued my interest, although I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  The author provides her take on the life of a woman, Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump (Vinnie) from the nineteenth century who was 2 feet, eight inches tall.

The book highlights her many adventures and experiences, such as going to the White House to meet the President, meeting Queen Victoria and marrying and becoming “Mrs. General Tom Thumb”.  Vinnie has many dreams and this book captures her successes and also the challenges and trials she faced in her life.

The author does a nice job of combining some history and key time periods of history in America (Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, various inventions) and also introduces the reader to P.T. Barnum and his life and work at the museum and later his traveling show.  I also enjoyed reading the author’s notes at the end of the book to learn more details about her research and what was really known about Vinnie and P.T. Barnum.  This book provided a great escape to a different period in time and an overview of the adventures, life and learning of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

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Outlander

I recently finished reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  Wow – I am not sure where to start.  First, perhaps I’ll start with the fact that I decided to dive into this book after being in a reading slump, as the book was highly recommended from a friend.  Sure – I’ll dig out of my reading rut by tackling a book that is 850 pages…  This one was definitely a page turner.  It starts out in Scotland in the 1940s after the war and Claire, the female protagonist, finds herself transported to a time period 200 years earlier where she is now the “outlander” in the midst of different clans, war, and tension between England and Scotland.

This book has the combination of history, drama, romance, action and adventure to keep the reader engaged. I do have to say that this book is not for the faint of heart – there are definitely some intense scenes in the book, including violence and torture, but the level of details the author provides as it relates to the different medical terms and history during that time period is impressive.

This is the first book in the Outlander series and it looks as though the books increase in page length.  The second book, Dragonfly in Amber, is close to 950 pages and the third book, Voyager, is over 1,000 pages.  Don’t let the length of the books scare you – the different characters and all of the details included are worth it.  I plan to continue reading this series – I will have to figure out when I want to start the second book.